God’s grace after the storm
May 28, 2019 / By MaryBeth Ingalls, Upper New York Volunteer Coordinator
Editor’s Note: MaryBeth Ingalls was just certified as an ERT earlier this month. She went on her first mission trip as an ERT to Smalltown, PA. from May 20-22 with a team of 12 volunteers from the Upper New York Conference. Montrose UMC hosted the group and East Bloomfield UMC provided the food. The specific town of the home the team worked on has been changed as has the residents’ names to protect their identity. MaryBeth’s story exemplifies how being an ERT is about so much more than relief and recovery—it’s about fellowship and feeling the presence of God
A few weeks ago, I decided to do the training to become an ERT. I have a lot of experience doing missions work and I have also been a volunteer firefighter, so I thought this was just up my alley. The next thing I know, only a couple weeks after this training, I’m asked to join a recovery team traveling to Smalltown, PA. I am picked up by a van filled with strangers, but within minutes, it’s as though I have known them my whole life.
We worked underneath (yes, literally underneath) a modular home that needed insulation and plastic ripped out and replaced. In August 2018, a creek uphill from the home flooded with hundreds of gigantic rocks tumbling down and flood waters so deep that cars in the neighborhood floated away.
The resident of this home, we’ll call her Jennifer, was livid with God. She was so mad. Jennifer grew up in poverty and worked very hard to make a decent living and her home was a token of all her hard work and dedication over the years. Jennifer lived with her husband and 14-year old daughter, we’ll call her Evie.
The insulation underneath the home was water-logged and could become toxic. We wore Tyvek suits, face masks, and safety glasses as we crawled into this small space to rip out the insulation. There were points where we had to squeeze our bodies in small spaces and maneuver our bodies like a contortionist to rip out insulation or install the new insulation. This was hard, bruise-provoking work, but it was so worth because I witnessed acts of God like I never have before.
On the second day of this trip, Jennifer came out to speak with us and said, “You know, I have been so angry with God after this storm but seeing you all doing this work joyfully was amazing. I saw some light and felt hope for the first time in ages. I haven’t prayed in decades and last night I prayed for 20 minutes.”
That’s what we do as ERTs—we bring the heart of Jesus.
Our leader, Brian Greenwald, at one point instructed me to instruct others. I had never done this type of work before, so I was a little intimidated and uncomfortable. There were basics I had to tell some of the women working with me like the critical importance of wearing safety glasses even if you don’t want to! But then, I also had to tell them how to install installation when I had less than an hour of experience from earlier in the day. Afterwards, one of the women came to me and thanked me and said, “Thank you for helping us. We felt very relaxed working with you. You were so calm and patient.” At devotion time that night, I thanked Brian for making me step out of my comfort zone. I truly felt God’s presence then.
Probably the most lasting impression of God I left PA with was a painting. This wasn’t any old painting. The last morning, Jennifer was looking all over for her daughter Evie—she wasn’t in her room, she wasn’t watching TV, where could she be? She looked out the window and saw her daughter up on the pile of thousands of rocks in her back yard. Evie had painted a sun rising over a mountain and water scene on one of the rocks. Those rocks had been there for nine months. I do not think it is a coincidence that Evie painted that beautiful scene on a rock while the ERT was there being the hands and feet of God.
We wrapped a prayer shawl over Jennifer before we left and prayed for her. She is going through many struggles in life right now aside from the house—we told her when she prays to wrap the shawl around her, that the people who knitted it and also us (your family in Christ) will be praying with you.
I may be physically bruised from the ERT work, but the grace of God I felt during this ERT trip trumps the physical pain by far.